Freetown Village Inc.: Indianapolis’ African American History

Freetown Village Inc. is a living history village designed to educate Indianapolis kids about African American history in Indiana right after the Civil War. Life for newly freed African Americans is depicted through theater, folk crafts, storytelling, heritage workshops, music, day camps, and special events. The goal of Freetown Village Inc. is to preserve the history of an entire population of people in Indianapolis just as they were reaching one of the most important turning points in their history to date.

Freetown creates an illusion of how life was for 30,000 African American men, women, and children counted in the 1870 census just after the end of the war. The history of the characters in the village are based on a composite of African Americans. The village is modeled after the Old Fourth Ward, what was once the largest African American settlement in Indianapolis. After the end of the Civil War, towns in that area prospered. African American citizens found freedom to work and live, to marry and have children without the fear of being separated by slavery.

This historic village was first imagined by Ophelia Wellington in 1982. She had a desire to illuminate African American history for her students. She applied for and received a grant from the Indiana Humanities Council. The money allowed her to organize fellow educators, historians, and Indianapolis arts and cultural leaders to create a two month pilot project. It opened in the Fall of 1984 at the Indiana State Museum.

The pilot started with two vignettes based on the history of a seamstress and the history of a barber. Actor interpreters brought these historic stories to life and interacted with visitors. They were so successful that a permanent exhibit was instituted at the museum, funded by the Indiana Arts Commission. Until it closed in 2001, the Freetown Village exhibit offered hands on education where kids could truly see the African American heritage of the Hoosier state come to life.

Since its inception in the early eighties, Freetown Village Inc. has toured all over the Midwest sharing this important moment in history with the nation. Actor interpreters have performed in churches, gymnasiums, Indianapolis theaters, Indianapolis parks, Indianapolis hotels, offices, and even parades to spread the history of African Americans at that time.

Freetown Village Inc. is currently a free floating organization. One of their major goals is to establish a historic village site in the circle city, like Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana. The organization envisions that the village site will house representative buildings and that guests will have the opportunity to mingle with Freetown Village “residents” in their homes and work places to learn about African American history in a hands on setting. Also, Freetown hopes to hold annual special events to educate Indianapolis society.

Even without a permanent home, Freetown Village currently offers a wide variety of programs. Their summer camp makes a valuable contribution to Indianapolis education and gives kids fun things to do during June and July. Activities are geared towards building self-esteem and imagination. The camp broadens the horizon of its kids by involving them in cultural field trips, old fashion games, team-building activities and more. For many kids a summer spent at the camp is their first interaction with African American history.

Freetown also has a touring acting troupe that produces one play each year that travels around the city. In addition to that, the Freetown Village Singers regale listeners with historic African American spirituals at Indianapolis festivals and cultural celebrations. And last but not least Freetown Village offers craft workshops to make daily life in the 19th Century real for participants.

Discover how you or your family can take advantage of this great Indianapolis performing arts troupe and preservers of Indianapolis history.

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Freetown Village Inc.
PO Box 1041
Indianapolis, IN 46206